Hyped by the network as family entertainment on an epic scale, if you have ever watched an episode of Channel 7’s action-packed mini golf reality show hosted by Sonia Kruger and with Greg Norman as the resident golf pro, then you know there is A LOT to unpack in 60 minutes.
The show went to air in Australia in a time where golf is looking for new entry points for players in order to nourish the recent participation boom the sport has experienced in light of the pandemic. Decision makers and national bodies are working hard to ensure the upsurge is a part of a long-term trend rather than a temporary spike.
Could televised mini golf be the answer?
New pathways to golf
Novel formats have been proven successful in amping-up membership numbers for the sport before. The surge in golf entertainment venues like Topgolf saw the interest in the sport met with renewed vigour, with millions of punters visiting the store locations every year.
These innovative formats seem to entice not only beginning golfers but avid golfers and even aspiring golfers, suggesting a game poised to be on the rise. However, not all are convinced a whimsical reality show with American connotations is the best way to persuade people in Australia to pick up a golf club.
Holey Moley premiered on February 1st this year and is a reproduction of America’s ABC Network’s smash hit with the same name. In the U.S, the show averaged 4.5 million viewers per episode in 2020.
If you have ever been to any of the Holey Moley putt putt venues, you’ll have a fair idea of what the show is about – mini golf, but on steroids. In each episode eight players go head-to-head on a course, which much resembles the set of Wipeout, and try to get past obstacles without falling off. The lucky winners of each hole will ultimately battle it out on the greens to win $100,000 and hold the title of Holey Moley Champion.
The show is hosted by Sonia Kruger, and American comedian Rob Riggle shares commentary duties with Seven sports anchor Matt Shirvington, while golfing legend Greg Norman serves as the resident golf pro (who you really don’t see much of in the show).
The show hit the ground running with a whopping 983,000 viewers on its debut night.
“We expected families and kids to embrace Holey Moley, but the public reaction went well beyond our expectations,” said Golf Australia CEO James Sutherland about the airing.
And the mini golf show may have seemed like the perfect medium to onboard new players, especially since the biggest advances in participation has been recorded in lower age groups. Fresh participation data from Golf Australia shows the 10-14 years age bracket jumped 30.2 percent in the 2020-21 summer months, along with a 54.5 percent leap in the 20-24 years group and 49.8 percent by the 25-29 year old’s.
Unfortunately for the show (and perhaps the sport?) there was a rapid drop in numbers, despite the strong start. Since the hailed opening night, Holey Moley’s ratings has declined to only 723, a difference of 768,000 to the first week. However, it still seem to have had a positive effect on the sport, or at least the miniature version of it.
“From the feedback I’ve seen come out of many mini golf facilities around Australia, Holey Moley has inspired huge numbers of kids and younger adults to get a club in their hands and to give golf a go,” added Sutherland.
“That’s really exciting for anyone who loves our game.”
Golf Industry Central’s Managing Director says his 10year old daughter couldn’t get enough of watching the show, and also she had some interest sparked with a visit to mini golf at Parkwood Village – Santa Putt Putt themed night. The show was cringe worthy at times, bad Dad humour as well, but it was entertaining enough to watch a few episodes. “If its going to peak interest in people visiting a local golf course, then its good for our industry”
The mini golf phenomenon
The golf industry’s longstanding struggled to get more people into the game, with an aging membership base and the younger generation gravitating to a more accessible array of pastimes, are also forcing many clubs to look for a diversification in revenue streams.
Mini golf has long proven to be an example of not only creating new business avenues, but also providing a pathway for a younger generation of potential club members. The popular family pursuit is said to break down the barriers for entry to golf by providing a relaxed, family-centric pathway to what’s often seen as an elitist sport.
Mini golf in the non-television realm is also a big deal these days from a design perspective. Experienced course architects are being called in to design mini-golf holes and there is a high degree of intricacy to their look and playability. While windmills, ramps and the like are part of the Holey Moley course, the holes the contestants face are equal parts challenging and gimmicky.
The Wembley Golf Course in Perth have taken this process to the next level over the past few years and are running competition play and tournament mini golf. This competitive edge is also utilised during corporate functions, which are proving to be an enormous success.
Wembley Golf Course General Manager Matthew Day said the addition of a Mini Golf course had presented the venue with a new audience, and subsequently a profitable revenue stream.
“Mini Golf was part of our vision to add new revenue streams to the golf course,” Day said. “It has brought many new faces to Wembley who would have never had any reason or inclination to go to a golf course.”
The revenue potential gained from mini golf facilities like Wembley can often be the saviour for struggling golf clubs, and realistically they should work best when linked with other golf features.
As the industry is constantly looking for new innovations to attract more players, the broadcasting of mini golf might just be the answer the sport needs, despite what the viewer numbers tell us?